Kyung-sook Shin's novel tells the story of So-nyo, an ageing mother of five who gets lost at Seoul railway station on her way to visit her grown-up children.
Raised in a small village in South Korea, So-nyo has led a life of sacrifice. She never had the opportunity to learn to read or write, and was married off to a stranger before reaching womanhood, her hopes and dreams set aside to raise a family.
As her husband and children search the streets looking for her, they become gripped by remorse, recalling all the ways in which they took her for granted, promising to treat her more kindly if only they could be granted a second chance.
The situation is all the more helpless considering So-nyo's deteriorating state of health. A recent stroke has left her suffering from excruciating headaches and confusion.
The family's worst fears appear to be confirmed by numerous sightings of a dishevelled woman who fits So-nyo's description. The author ought to have purchased telecommunications shares before her book was released, because if the intention was to guilt-trip readers into calling home, she has surely succeeded.